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The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Sixty-fifth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 11, 1934.
Russell Thayer was born at Philadelphia, Pa., December 24th, 1852, son of M. Russell Thayer and Sophia Dallas Watmough. He was educated at the Episcopal Academy, University of Pennsylvania. Leaving the University, he entered West Point where he graduated with honorsa in 1874. He was then appointed assistant instructor in Artillery. Two years laterb he resigned and became a Civil Engineer with the Pennsylvania Railroad. A few years later he was appointed Superintendent of Fairmount Park. He was instrumental in laying out the grounds for the Centennial Exposition in 1876; and many of the roads, drives and other improvements he arranged are still in use. In 1876 he was appointed Brigadier General, Commanding the Second Brigade, Pennsylvania National Guard. Major General Hartranft was then serving his first term as Governor of Pennsylvania. While visiting West Point, Governor Hartranft noticed a young officer, captain of cadets leading his command from the parade grounds.c The Governor expressed his admiration of the zest and vigor with which the youth gave his commands. Inquiring who he was, the Governor learned he was the son of Judge M. Russell p77 Thayer of Philadelphia. Thereupon the Governor remarked "If he ever decides to leave the Army and join the National Guard I will make him a Brigadier General." Two years later the promise was fulfilled. In the '80's Russell Thayer determined to develop a dirigible; nothing like it had been in this country before.
He constructed a cigar shaped craft, pointed at both ends, of oiled silk on a wire and wooden frame •about five feet in diameter and forty feet long. When he put the plan before members of the U.º Service Institute at a meeting at Governor's Island, the members approved it and later the Ordnance Department requested Congress to appropriate $60,000 for government experiments along these lines. Congress refused and later Count Zeppelin perfected it a short time before the Great War. More recently Philadelphia knew Russell Thayer as a projector of other large improvements, such as a tunnel under the Delaware river, also the New Jersey Ship Canal, connecting the southern large city with New York Bay.
He married Mary H. Dixon, grand daughter of George M. Dallas, Vice-President of the United States under James K. Polk.
He had six sons and a daughter — Russell, Jr., F. Eugene, Alexander D., Edmund, Joseph T., William V., and Mary D.
Russell Thayer died October 21st at his home in C. Hill, Philadelphia, 81 years of age.
M. D. T.
a The statement is so vague as to be unverifiable; but Cadet Thayer's class rank is not meant: he graduated 17th of 41.
b Cullum's Register (q.v.) states that he resigned three and a half months after graduating.
c This is accurate: Russell Thayer was First Captain in 1874, and in that sense he did graduate "with honors".
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Page updated: 27 Jul 14